85th Academy Awards 2013
Nominated for 7 awards, of which it won 3.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat), Best Sound Editing (Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn), and Best Sound Mixing (John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Jose Antonio Garcia).
Won Best Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio), Best Film Editing (William Goldenberg), and Best Picture (Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney).
Watched March 22, 2013.
When it comes to Best Picture of the year, Ben Affleck’s Argo was not my pick, but the buzz around it going into awards season this year meant that it was probably the strongest contender for the title. It is an entertaining, engaging, and very well made film based on real life events in 1979 and 1980. In fact, the film is made so well that it feels like it was actually made in the era it documents.
In the first five minutes of the film, Affleck treats us to a crash course in the recent Iranian political climate and bases many of his footage off of actual photographs from the event. There are some nasty feelings toward the United States because they have given asylum to a political leader the people want to hang. As a result, the Iranians take over the American embassy and take everyone inside hostage. Everyone but the six citizens who escape out the back door and find refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s home.
Tony Mendez (Affleck) is a hot shot CIA exfiltration specialist, and after months of the hostage situation, he is finally brought on board to get the six escapees home. In perhaps my favourite part of the film, he gets the bright idea of flying in alone, claiming to be a part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi thriller, and will fly out with his crew. He even goes so far as to fly to Hollywood and bring two greats onto his side to help prove this film is real–Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) is a long time producer with shelves of awards and John Chambers (John Goodman), a special effects and prosthetics artist. They find the script (Argo), stage a reading, create storyboards and posters, and even make it into the press.
Although a lot of people I have heard claim the beginning of the film is slow, if you stick with it, the last forty minutes or so are a fast paced roller coaster. Without knowing much about each individual character, we almost immediately feel a connection with them. It is easy to pull for both Mendez and the rest of the Americans. They are stressed to the breaking point and trust isn’t easy to come by, but it is time to go. Even though running and hiding hasn’t been the easiest thing, escaping in broad day light through a busy airport is the scariest thing most of them have ever experienced, and for good reason.
The film is based off of real life events that were declassified by President Clinton several years ago. It is fascinating that a hero such as Mendez could exist and receive the highest award the CIA has to offer, and no one knew about it until many years later. Affleck embodies the character very well. He has confidence in the “best bad idea” that they have, and he works the entire movie to instill that confidence in everyone else. Arkin and Goodman were exquisite comic reliefs and one of my favourite aspects of the film. At times, the Hollywood action tends to pull the focus too far out of Iran, but perhaps the crazy almost non-reality of their world helps the audience believe the crazy reality of the exfiltration and the story that they are trying to pull off.
The story is wonderful, although it doesn’t try to be any deeper than it is. There is little attempt to delve into the psyche of the characters, but instead we are given little clues that tell us just enough to understand what we need to, and then we move on. It is as if the whole film is just a blink of what actually happened and we are privileged enough to get that glimpse.
The style of the film is almost as admirable as Mendez himself (okay that’s a stretch, but seriously… it’s good). Affleck chose to shoot on film instead of HD, like most of today’s talent. Every nomination and win was deserved. The exquisite detail, the 70s hair, and the nail biting sound all wove together into a wonderful historic narrative that will hopefully live on well beyond 2013.
I would highly recommend this film. It isn’t a family movie and if you have kids you might want to exercise some caution. However, they might also fall asleep before the movie is too far in–once you get past the initial takeover of the embassy, of course. It is a film I would love to own and one that I could easily watch a couple times a year. If you haven’t had the chance to see Affleck’s best directorial work, now would be a fantastic time!